The world's most powerful solar collectors -- based on a hornet's exoskeleton -- debut in Israel
[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]
by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years
JANUARY 11, 2050 (Tel Aviv) -- Photosynthesis, the biological process by which sunlight is converted into electrical energy, was believed to be exclusively the domain of plants until 2011, when a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University discovered that the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) did the same thing.
Published in the German journal Naturwissenschaften, the study, "Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet," found that the hornet accomplishes this remarkable feat through the unique physiology of its outer brown shell, which has light-diverting grooves and pinhole depressions that collect sunlight and which also contains a pigment called xanthopterin that converts sunlight into electrical energy,
This discovery led to decades of biomimicry research at Tel Aviv University's Supercenter, which is dedicated to the study of renewable energy. In 2046, the Supercenter created the world's first solar cell based on the hornet's exoskeleton. Named the "vespasolar cell" after the hornet's scientific name, it is 20% more efficient than solar cells of the past.
Last week, the Supercenter unveiled the first public vespasolar project -- a large bank of vespasolar cells erected at Israel's port city of Jaffa. By the end of the year, the cells will provide up to 80% of the city's electricity needs, including 100% of the power for Ajami, the city's Arab section, which Reuters noted was "once a slum slated for demolition." Ajami received international recognition with the success the 2009 joint Israeli-Palestinian film of the same name.
"We have finally achieved a level of biomimicry that effectively replicates the hornet's ability to turn sunlight into energy, proving yet again that nature has all the solutions we need," said Professor Britt Reid of the Supercenter, at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "And to be able to unveil the world's first public vespasolar bank at one of the oldest port cities has made the project very special indeed."
image: Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis), Lato archaeological site, Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece. (credit: Kreta)